Multiple factors have led the federal government to take up with the provinces the option of carrying out the sixth population census in phases in order to meet the inadequate provision of army troops and to address the concerns being expressed by certain elements in Balochistan, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Pakistan Today has learnt.
According to a well-placed source, the Statistics Division had finalised a plan for carrying out the census simultaneously in all the provinces, but the federal government is now mulling to review the idea owing to the army’s engagement with counter-terrorism operations.
“The federal government had sought support of around 200,000 troops, but owing to the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb the requisitioned soldiers could not be provided. Hence, the government is mulling to hold population census in phases,” said the source.
When contacted Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Mian Pirzada Hussain Pirzada said the matter was being deliberated upon. He said that final decision would be taken by the prime minister with consensus of the provinces at the upcoming session of the Council of Common Interests (CCI). He said that the budget (for the census) had already been placed at the disposal of the Statistics Division and there were no financial impediments at the moment. The minister however hinted at a possible phase-wise census due to the various factors involved.
Asked whether or not some ethnic groups like Baloch leaders had reservations on the census, an official source told Pakistan Today that fears were being expressed by Baloch nationalist parties, and some politicians from the Mohajir, Sindhi and Pashtun groups of being marginalised due to massive internal displacement and presence of around four million Afghan migrants in the country.
“Around one million migrants are present in Balochistan alone which makes the Baloch nationalists quite uneasy. These Baloch nationalists fear they would be marginalised and the Pashtuns may outnumber them,” added the source.
Talking to this scribe, a Balochistan government official said that the Baloch nationalists were facing a strong challenge from the Pashtuns even inside their own majority-districts, where the people from both the ethnicities were living since ages, but the majority has always been enjoyed by the Balochs. “However, this equation has been badly damaged by the armed struggle of Baloch militants against the state and tribal feuds within the Baloch people,” he said.
“The infighting between two major Bugti tribes in and around Sibi, the decades-old Bugti-Marri feuds and Rind-Raisani conflicts resulted in killings and migration of Baloch youth,” the official source added.
He further said that the federal government gave share to the provincial government under the NFC Award on the basis of headcount and the province distributed it among the districts on the basis of the same headcount. “However, the Pashtuns are now threatening Baloch nationalists with their majority in headcount. They have already captured business centres; they are ahead in education, sports and all other fields of life. Now if they also surpass the Balochs in headcount, it would push Baloch population to further isolation,” the source said.
“At present, Akhtar Mengal is the only prominent Baloch nationalist opposing the census. So, Balochistan Chief Minister Sardar Sanaullah Zehri will have to take all these realities into consideration,” said the source.
Meanwhile, Zehri recently told journalists in Quetta that the population census would be carried out per schedule and every possible effort would be made for its completion. “The chief minister said he himself was a Baloch leader and will not allow any politician to mislead the people of the province,” said Abdul Ghani Kakar, a Quetta-based senior journalist, of Zehri’s address.
He said for the time being, former Balochistan chief minister Akhtar Mengal was a lone voice who was vociferously opposing the census while other Baloch leaders were silent over the matter.
“While the chief minister looks committed to moving ahead with the planned census, there are some reservations expressed by Akhtar Mengal that need to be listened to. Mengal wants repatriation of all Pashto/Dari-speaking Afghan nationals before the census as he fears that any immediate census could turn the Balochs into a minority in their own province,” he said.
Kakar said another demand Mengal made was the repatriation of all those Baloch population who had migrated to other parts of the country after the security forces launched an operation in troubled districts of Balochistan, including Khuzdar, Mastung, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Turbat, Mashkay and other districts of Makran coast and adjoining areas. “Mengal also demands return of all those Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazara tribesmen who had migrated from Afghanistan,” he added.
According to Kakar, the law and order situation also needs to be improved in the province before the census is carried out. “If there will be attacks on polio workers, how can we go for a census,” he argued.
The entire country has been divided into 166,800 census blocks and each block would need one civilian and one soldier besides the military deployment required for security.
A defence analyst pointed out that at the time when the army was already stretched thin because of its engagement inside the country and at borders, sparing such a large number of troops would not be easy.
According to an official, population census is usually held in two phases: house listing and population and housing census. (House listing is usually carried out a few months before the main census).
The official said that demographic and social characteristics had to be taken care of for census under which age, sex, relationship to the head, marital status, religion, mother tongue and nationality had to be registered.
“Moreover, educational characteristics of people of five years and above have to be registered while literacy status, school attendance, level of education completed, and field of education should also be taken care of,” he added.
The official said, “Furthermore, geographical and migration characteristics have to be registered. Details such as, usual residence, district of birth, duration of continuous residence in district, district of previous residence and reason of migration have to be registered as well.”
“Economic characteristics of population of ten years and above would also be registered while usual activity, part-time activity, occupation, industry employment status and reason of unemployment also need to be enrolled,” he added.
Moreover, fertility, mortality rate of females from 15-49 years has to be registered as well, said the official, adding, “Nature and type of disability if any and holding of CNIC by people above the age of 18 years would also be registered.”
Similarly, information about living quarters, number of rooms, sex of the owner, tenure status, period since constructed and construction material used in outer walls and roofs would also be registered during the census, said the official.
Pakistan conducted its last census in year 1998. Another population census was due in 2007 but the then Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) government could not conduct it before the general elections due to volatile political situation emerging out of the assassination of PPP chief Benazir Bhutto. Almost 98 per cent work for carrying out a census had been completed in year 2011 and tentative dates for census had been fixed for March 2012 as elections were to be conducted in March 2013, but it was again delayed.